Corporate Citizenship

#PressforProgress: Every day is an opportunity to advance equality

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Author: Gina Tesla, IBM Citizenship Vice President

Gina TeslaIt’s fair to say that gender parity has become an issue that is now receiving greater attention than ever before. In some places, the conversation focuses on workplace equality for women, while elsewhere the discussion focuses on other spheres of life, such as health, safety, education, economic opportunity, and social services. While the calendar tells us that International Women’s Day is on March 8, the truth is that every day is an opportunity to advance equality and opportunity for women.

To that end, we’ve seen some encouraging developments that point to progress in the effort to make female empowerment a right, not an optional privilege. IBM may be more attuned to these encouraging developments on a global basis because some of our best employees — about 4,000 IBMers from 60 countries in the last 10 years — have participated in IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, traveling to nearly 40 countries on month-long professional, pro-bono assignments inspired by the Peace Corps.

Investment in economic growth

It turns out that investing in women is also an investment in economic growth, not just because it’s the right thing to do. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, when more women participate in the labor force, economies grow faster. Increased education for girls and women also contributes to prosperity, says the United Nations. And The World Bank notes that when women have more responsibility in managing household income, consumer spending changes in ways that benefit children.

Some of these organizations that IBM Corporate Service Corps helps are tasked with addressing women’s health, economics, education and welfare, and we’ve been privileged to see firsthand the important work that they do in cultivating the opportunities to which young women need exposure.

Let Girls Learn

For instance, in Ghana, on a joint project with the U.S. Peace Corps, IBM worked with TECHAiDE, a social enterprise that uses technology and interactive lessons that enable young women in remote villages to complete their education. Inspired by the strong, female volunteers that he met, TECHAiDE‘s CEO resolved to hire even more women as technicians. He reasoned that when young women see his female technicians installing technology, they may gain extra confidence to one day become professionals, too.

Focusing entrepreneurial energies

Women are increasingly participating in the workforce, on their own terms, in places such as Kenya, where an IBM Corporate Service Corps team provided technical know-how to Women Enterprise Fund, a government-run agency that, among other services, facilitates microloans to female entrepreneurs (who have an enviable 92% repayment rate!) The business people that WEF serves are the owners of a range of enterprises, ranging from artisan craftsmanship, to agriculture and food services. We helped the organization create a methodology for cultivating new sources of finance and stakeholders, and designed a way for better internal communication.

Elsewhere in the world, women are also putting their talents to work, and are asking for training on how to best focus their entrepreneurial energies. For example, in Mexico’s Lake Chapala region, where women are often heads of households, IBM Corporate Service Corps and the U.S. Peace Corps formulated a plan that would not only clear the country’s largest freshwater source of harmful aquatic weeds, but also turn this vegetation into artisanal paper for household crafts. With a focus on empowering women, workshops for indigenous, mostly female artists were held, helping them develop go-to-market plans.

Well being and physical safety

To improve the well being and physical safety of women, and to reduce their exploitation many countries are working with the not for profit sector. For example, IBM helped the International Organization for Migration in Thailand to develop a mobile application to prevent the exploitation of domestic workers in Asia. In India, the Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices in Chennai facilitates networks of community based organizations and other collectives of female sex workers, transgender people, and other vulnerable populations.  For them, the IBM team developed a business plan for Community Information and Facilitation Centres.

Defining success

Governments and the private sector in the developing world are beginning to recognize the potential of women, and are doing what they can to ensure their success. Each of us defines success differently, but it should always involve consistent access to health care, social services and equal economic and educational opportunity. While we still have a long we to go, and each of us needs to do what we can in our personal and professional lives to advance equality for all, it’s heartening to be a part of a global awakening to broaden women’s opportunities even before they arrive in the workplace, and long after they’ve returned home for the day.

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